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Lobo / Road Runner Special (Review)

Lobo/Road Runner Special
DC Comics, June 2017
Writer: Bill Morrison

Anyone with passing familiarity with the starring characters of this new title will understandably be immediately skeptical. American publisher DC Comics’ new “Lobo/Road Runner Special” comic sounds ghastly. In the past few months DC Comics has launched a creative initiative that pairs its superhero genre characters with iconic Saturday morning Warner Brothers cartoon franchises (DC Comics is a corporate affiliate of Warner Brothers). These mismatched concepts present a substantial challenge for writers who want to craft stories that are something more than nonsense or a blatant marketing stunt.

“Lobo/Road Runner Special” meets expectations. The comic is a wasted opportunity. There is potential for things to work, namely because the Lobo concept epitomises gallows humor. Lobo is an extraterrestrial bounty hunter from the Czarnian race, whose regenerative abilities, inhuman durability, and massive strength make him nigh-unkillable and functionally immortal. The character has been used to deliver fourth-wall breaking gags and satire, and has in the past had weird, violent crossovers with the likes of Santa Claus and Satan.

The premise in this title is very simple. The character Wile E. Coyote (the luckless antagonist in the “Road Runner” television cartoon), through the prodding and support of a mysterious benefactor, hires Lobo to finally take out the Wile E. Coyote’s manic adversary, the speedy, tongue-waggling bird called the Road Runner. Lobo, for his part, is in the middle of a bounty hit, and so tasks Wile E. Coyote with taking out his own target. This is a character called Kilowog, an alien who is a member of DC Comics’ well-established intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps. To give credit where it is due, there is a part of the comic that could have gone somewhere truly bizarre and interesting: the pathos of Wile E. Coyote finally giving up on trying to catch his nemesis, choosing instead to surrender to a government facility hidden in the notorious desert locale called Area 52 where he can spend the rest of his life being experimented upon. Unfotunately, this narrative thread is immediately abandoned in favor of pushing the plot towards a crossover interaction with Lobo.

Lobo, for his part, should have had no trouble fitting in a story involving the Road Runner. Lobo’s abilities and proclivity for explosives and munitions are thematically in line with the average Road Runner episode (indeed, Wile E. Coyote has the same ability for survival against the odds as Lobo). Most Road Runner stories usually involve the cunning yet perpetually unlucky character Wile E. Coyote hatching various traps and schemes in order to catch (and eat) Road Runner. It is not uncommon for guns, explosives, sharp and pointy traps to end up backfiring on Wile E. Coyote. Lobo would have made a great stand-in for the Coyote. It is a concept that was silly, but might have worked through proper execution.

Unfortunately, execution is where things fall apart. There is a terribly cliched backstory that attempts to explain the existence of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, using the backdrop of secret scientific experiments that gave the animals increased intelligence and various abilities (such as speech, and the ambiguously explained ability to escape destruction.) This is completely unnecessary. It is impossible to ground the over-the-top premise of the “Road Runner” characters no matter how many real world explanations are thrown at it.

Most other reviewers disagree with us:

a. Allen Thomas at Comicosity glowingly says, “This story is corny and it is absolutely excellent… The illustration and writing coalesce to create an engaging read that capitalizes on the irony of shady origins as the method of humor. None of the characters are overbearing and this final product is an enjoyable foray into seemingly disparate themes and mechanics of storytelling.” We query whether we read the same comic. The writing is sub-par, with details and plot haphazardly spoon-fed to the readers through unnecessary dialogue between characters, most of which clumsily serve to advance the plot rather than explore anything more.

b. River Godbee at The GWW says, “This combo or revenge-happy characters actually works out. The mixture of cynicism and revenge that Wile has fits with the “don’t give a frag” attitude of Lobo. “ We think that Mr Godbee understands the surreal comedic potential for the concept, but, with respect, has not grasped the failure in execution.

c. Brendon Bloxdorf at Comicsverse concludes, “Morrison and Kelly did a phenomenal job of bringing back the nostalgic TV vibes and tossing them perfectly into a comic book.” But there is no nostalgic, wacky Road Runner theme here. Instead, we are given a half-baked origin of gruesome scientific experiments upon animals. That is hardly Saturday morning cartoon fare.

d. Josh McCullough at We the Nerdy accurate observes, “If there’s one knock against the plot it’s that it manages to be both strangely convoluted and pretty short and straightforward in equal measure”, but concludes, “a great tongue-in-cheek comic that knows exactly what it wants to be and does it tremendously.” We disagree. Instead, the befouled plot lurches from point-to-point on its conceptual compass.

e. David Brooke at Adventures in Poor Taste! notes, correctly, “The origin is straight out of the B-movie black and white era and it gives the issue a slice of nostalgic eeriness,” which correlates with our criticism that the combination is jarring. Mr Brooke goes on to properly note, “There are jokes attempted and not necessarily landed in this issue. It might be due to Jones’ dark and macabre style, or maybe the comedy is too silly for its own good, but much of the gags in the main story fall flat.” Yet his conclusion, inexplicably, is that this, “crossover comic… ends up being a winner”.

f. At Comics Beat, reviewer Alex Lu says the title is “a fun and breezy read”, a position we entirely disagree with.

On the other hand,

a. At Weird Scienced Comics reviewer Reggie Hemingway accurately notes, “It’s not hilarious, but there are funny moments. The other story, however, is just so boring. Lots of back and forth, superfluous information that drives the story nowhere, and a whole sci-fi angle that was bloated and unsatisfying. Kelley Jones provides a creepy vibe that, while entirely his style, may not have been warranted in a book that is essentially a complete goof on the face of it. And probably should have been written as more of a goof.

b. Matthew Pearson at Major Spoilers says the title “isn’t successful” and is an “ok reading experience that doesn’t quite stick the landing.”

In our view, even these two lacklustre reviews gild the lily. Wretched dialogue and a hopelessly overly-complicated plot with an unnecessary backstory explanation torpedo this title. This is the first comic which we have reviewed that we must encourage readers to avoid.